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Washington Law Alert

Washington Governor Jay Inslee Creates Protection for High-Risk Employees During COVID-19
Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued a proclamation creating certain job protections for employees in Washington who are at a high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. Employees are considered high risk if they are 65 years or older, live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, or have certain chronic underlying health conditions, as listed on the CDC’s website here. The proclamation includes the following protections for employees:

  • Upon request, employers are required to use all available options for alternative work assignments to protect high-risk employees from exposure to COVID-19. Such options include, but are not limited to, telework, alternative or remote work locations, reassignment, and social distancing measures.

  • If an alternative work arrangement is not feasible, employers are required to allow a high-risk employee to use any available accrued leave or take unpaid leave (during which they can file an unemployment insurance claim), whichever the employee prefers.

  • Employers are required to fully maintain all employer-related health insurance benefits until the employee is deemed eligible to return to work even if an employee’s paid time off is exhausted during their leave.

  • Employers are prohibited from failing to reinstate the employee to their original position after their leave or alternative work assignment ends because the employee exercised any of the above rights.

The proclamation also clarified the following:

  • Employers are prohibited from applying or enforcing any employment contract provisions (including in a CBA) that contradict or otherwise interfere with the proclamation.

  • Employers may hire a temporary employee to replace a current employee who needs leave only if the temporary replacement does not negatively affect the current employee’s right to reinstatement or their employment status.

  • Employers are allowed to require a high-risk employee on leave to give up to five days’ advance notice to the employer of their intent to return to work.

  • The proclamation does not prohibit employers from laying off (partially or completely) high-risk employees if no work reasonably exists. However, employers should not factor in the employee’s high-risk status in their decision making. Further, employers may not take any action that could hinder an employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits.

The proclamation is effective from April 13 through June 12, 2020, unless extended.


Legal Disclaimer: This post does not and is not intended to contain legal advice, and its contents do not constitute the practice of law or provision of legal counsel. ScalePEO cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.

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